Once upon a time … Isn’t that how most fairy tales start? And fairy tales are fantasy, yes? Yet … sometimes it is easy to swallow it whole.
I never thought of myself as Goldilocks. I’m not even blonde. But somewhere along the way I started believing I could make everything just right.
I thought the formulas read: Hard work + Me = Perfection
Perfection = Happiness.
As a young wife, and before that, I believed if I tried hard enough, I could be enough. I worked myself to the point of illness in graduate school in order to make perfect grades. I did the same with my physical appearance, working out until I was sick. I spent days obsessively cleaning and straightening. I poured myself into domestic tasks. If I just worked harder, things would be great.
I suppose it worked for a time, even though I was wound tighter than a balloon string caught in a ceiling fan.
The first major snare came along with my first pregnancy. Instead of pretty and pregnant like those magazine pictures, I was pukey and grouchy. My husband couldn’t even climb into bed without the motion sending off waves of illness, and don’t even ask him about what happened when he drank the last of the chocolate milk …
I studied hard, though, and persevered. I would make this baby into one of those textbook examples of scheduling and good behavior.
My daughter had ideas of her own. For her first eight months she cried at least eight hours a day. She cried so loud the neighbors could hear it echoing in the street. We were on a schedule, all right. I would start crying at 5 p.m. because I knew she would start at 6 p.m.
For the first time, my perfect house had turned into a mad house. Toys, laundry, dishes, and pet hair spilled in all directions. I couldn’t manage to get myself anywhere, not even to Bible study once a week. This adorable infant had taken my life as hostage. Nothing was as I’d envisioned.
Just after eldest’s first birthday, I thought I had mono … but, no. Eldest was going to be a big sister. Again, life took me where I did not expect to go.
This could go on for pages, but I will give you a few basics. My second pregnancy required months of bed rest. By the time Rachel was only a few months old, I knew something was wrong. All my careful planning and efforts had again resulted in nothing. She was almost three before she was diagnosed with autism, but we had suspected all along.
It was a dark time. When I first heard the diagnosis, I felt as though an elephant plopped onto my chest. I couldn’t breathe. My hopes she would grow out of her difficult behaviors crashed like a chandelier dropping one perfect crystal bauble at a time.
My planned future morphed into something I couldn’t control. Messes spiraled beyond repair at home. As I picked up toys, Rachel followed behind me and dumped out more. Steam cleaning the carpet became a daily chore.
For years, fear kept me awake at night in between Rachel’s screaming tantrums.
One day I wound up in my closet, in the dark, crying and crying. I couldn’t keep this up. I was drowning in messes and imperfection. I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to crawl under the bed and die. I was a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make things work.
I had known Jesus since I was a child. I don’t think I ever lacked faith in Him, but in that moment I had never needed a Savior more. I cried out to Him. Save me. Save me from myself, save me from this mess that is my life. I want to come home, to come home to Heaven where there are no more messes. I’m so tired I can’t do this anymore. I can’t get up off this floor. I just want to die.
No rumbling voice from heaven answered me, but that was several years ago. And I’m still here, although “here” has changed in many ways.
There are still constant messes, but I have learned to laugh about them. I have learned it’s okay to be imperfect, that it is better to be imperfect. I want God to sustain me through my difficulties. In fact, I now treasure the difficulties He has sustained me through.
God held me up through each moment. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was supposed to be a routine surgery, but again things did not go as planned. I developed a raging infection that squeezed the life out of me. As I lay dying on the bathroom floor next to the closet I had locked myself into a few years earlier, I had a very different conversation with Jesus.
I could feel Jesus coming for me. I knew it would be as easy as reaching out. I could leave this life of imperfection and struggle and graduate to heaven where I had begged God to take me only a few years earlier.
But I didn’t want to leave, not yet. I begged Jesus to give me more time as a mother.
This time I heard a faint whisper. It is going to be hard, so very hard.
I don’t care. Please, give me more time as a mom.
I had come full circle from wanting to escape the harsh demands of my mom life to begging for more time.
The weeks and months after that bathroom-floor conversation were the most difficult and painful of my life. Yet, I treasure those moments because I could feel Jesus right beside me the whole time. My body was far less than perfect and still is. I have memory issues, I tire easily, I have scars that send lightning bolts of pain through my body when I move the wrong way. I am less perfect than I have ever been, but I realize more than ever that I am blessed.
And being blessed is far better than perfect. I could not make my own happiness, could not overcome every obstacle. I learned happy cannot depend on circumstances or on my ability to make things just right. Allowing God to sustain me rather than trying to do it myself has been the biggest blessing of my life. I am happy to tell anyone who wants to listen how to be imperfect and still find joy in the only lasting and perfect source: Jesus.
My earlier formula: Hard work + Me = Perfection = Happiness is a lie, my friends. A terrible, ugly lie.
No one is perfect. Only God is perfect, which is why only Jesus was able to live a perfect life. And He lived that perfect life so he could die as the perfect sacrifice. Why? Because the rest of us—humans—fall far from perfect. It doesn’t dwell anywhere in our nature. No matter how hard we try, we will fail at some point. Life is imperfect.
That is why we are beyond blessed to have Jesus who loves us even while we are imperfect.